When Evil Lived in Laurel : The White Knights and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer
by Wilkie, Curtis

"The inside story of how a courageous FBI informant helped to bring down the KKK chapter responsible for a brutal civil rights-era killing. By early 1966, the civil rights work of Vernon Dahmer, head of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP and a dedicated advocate for voter registration, was well-known in Mississippi. This put him in the crosshairs of the White Knights, one of the most violent sects of the KKK in the South-which carried out his murder in a raid that burned down his home and store. A riveting account of the incident and its aftermath, When Evil Lived in Laurel is a tale of obsession, in which the infamous Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers became so fixated on killing Dahmer that the bungled attack ultimately led to Bowers's downfall and the destruction of his virulently racist organization. Drawing on the diary of a former Klan infiltrator who risked his life to help break the White Knights, veteran journalist Curtis Wilkie brings fresh light to this chapter in the history of civil rights in the South"-

*Starred Review* The name Vernon Dahmer likely doesn't ring a bell with most readers the way Malcolm X does, yet journalist Wilkie (The Road to Camelot, 2017, with Thomas Oliphant) illustrates why that must change. Dahmer, a light-skinned Black man who passed for white, fought for Black voters' rights during the Civil Rights Movement in Jim Crow Mississippi. For his efforts, he drew the ire of one of the most violent sects of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Knights, who murdered him. In addition to Dahmer's life, the book explores the role of Tom Landrum, an FBI informant who infiltrated the White Knights. It chronicles how he unraveled the psychology behind their actions and worked from within to dismantle their activities. This thorough, well-researched book represents a landmark in the history of the Klan, how they operated in the Deep South, and the complex, often frustrating role of law enforcement. Most of all, When Evil Lived in Laurel demonstrates the continued impact of racial violence on the current political climate in America. Readers will find a wealth of historical detail in this engaging narrative, a natural follow-up for fans of the 2018 Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman who want to learn more about this subject. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

A retired University of Mississippi journalism professor recounts the story of a Mississippian who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and served as an informant for the FBI. Wilkie has reported on civil rights for more than 50 years. In his latest book, he digs into White supremacy and voter suppression with a welcome excavation of the neglected story of Tom Landrum, a courageous Jones County youth court counselor who, at the request of the FBI, joined and provided secret reports on the organization known as the White Knights of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan, which had murdered civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner the previous year. Landrum went undercover after growing disturbed by the racism of local officials, who kept Black residents from registering to vote in part by requiring them to answer questions such as, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" The author draws on Landrum's written FBI reports and other credible sources in this account of how prosecutors won convictions of a group of White Knights implicated in the murder of Vernon Dahmer, a longtime county NAACP president who had worked to register Black voters and died after Klansmen firebombed his house. Wilkie has reconstructed some conversations, which results at times in dialogue perhaps too neatly expository and requires him frequently to quote Klan members' use of derogatory racial terms. (Wilkie quotes members' use of the N-word 100+ times. It's never used gratuitously but rather demonstrates the virulent racism.) Nonetheless, the author skillfully examines a case full of cloak-and-dagger intrigue: passwords, death threats, secret codes, clandestine meetings in wooded areas after dark, and well-maintained suspense about whether the White Knights would discover the spy in their midst. In different ways, Landrum and Dahmer risked their lives to fight appalling injustices, and anyone looking for underappreciated civil rights heroes might profitably start with either man. A true-crime tale that offers a rare insider's perspective on the KKK in its heyday in Mississippi. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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